Back to Parliament… again

24 September 2019, Blog

Back to Law School, Parliament… again:

MPs are set to return to Westminster after the Government’s prorogation of Parliament was brought to a premature end following the Supreme Court’s conclusion that Parliament was prorogued unlawfully. All eyes turn to the Prime Minister.

Despite the English High Court’s original decision that the shutting down of Parliament was lawful, the UK’s highest court, The Supreme Court, has overturned this decision. On Tuesday 24th September at 10:30am, Lady Hale, President of the Court, gave the result of the 11 justices presiding over this case. The result was unanimous.

This case was brought forward by business woman Gina Miller, co-signed by MP Joanna Cherry of the SNP and former Conservative Prime Minister John Major. It fundamentally brought into question whether the case was firstly justiciable, which the court found it was. Secondly, it questioned whether the exercise of that power is open to legal challenge and thirdly, whether the prorogation would have the effect of frustrating or preventing Parliament from carrying out its function. The Court ‘concluded that this case is about the limits of the power to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament.’

In her judgment, Lady Hale stated that ‘the effects [of the prorogation] on the fundamentals of democracy was extreme’ and ‘the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful.’

The Prime Minister, who is currently in New York with other world leaders at the UN Conference, reportedly woke up early to hear the judgment but remained unshaken: ‘I strongly disagree with this decision of the Supreme Court. I have the upmost respect for our judiciary, I don’t think that was the right decision, I think that the prorogation has been used for centuries without this kind of challenge.’

Unsurprisingly, although opposition leaders have been united in calls for his resignation, Downing Street has resolutely confirmed that Mr. Johnson will not resign. Which means that although the Supreme Court Judgment might appear devastating, all attentions again turn to what happens next.

The court placed the immediate next steps into the hands of both the Speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords. They both confirmed that the Commons and Lords will return on Wednesday at 11:30 and 15:00 respectively. Whilst Commons Leader John Bercow has ruled out Prime Minister’s Question Time, usually held at midday on Wednesday, other parliamentary business will be conducted and will need to be scheduled by the Government.

But outside these procedural considerations, what does this all mean for the Brexit process? Many reporters are speculating that the Government may indeed attempt to re-prorogue Parliament. Some have said that they may bring back Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement (with cosmetic tweaks) or that Boris Johnson may try his luck at calling a general election for a third time. However, all of these options will need Parliament’s express consent and the arithmetic still has not changed; the Government does not have the numbers to force its own way in the House of Commons.

A similar headache faces Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Labour may feel jubilant about the Prime Minister’s predicament, but that joy masks what has otherwise been a very difficult week for the party with a party conference rocked by in-fighting over Brexit policy and attempts to remove its deputy leader. Jeremy Corbyn also faces the inescapable truth that whatever the issues for the Conservatives and Boris Johnson, his leadership sees Labour falling further in the polls every week and increasingly left behind in the debate around Brexit.

However, one fact remains clear: the Brexit deadline is now 37 days away and every political move matters. Each could lead the UK down a different path with no one leader offering a clear path to settling the Brexit issue.

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